Aim for Better

Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening. – Ed Catmull

Success is one of the most dangerous things that any organization can experience because once you’ve tasted success, you become more risk averse. You don’t want to give that up. You don’t want to risk failing anymore because now you know how awesome it feels to be successful. So, what do you do about it? You have to create systems that constantly challenge the status quo.

Success today (as they would say on the financial TV commercials) is not an indicator of future success. That’s clearly demonstrated by the fact that out of the Fortune 100 companies from the 1960s, something like only 6 still exist today. We have to constantly challenge the norms, but we also have to understand that we are trying to grow to a new scale. The systems in place for how you do things when you are one size don’t necessarily work when you grow to the next size.

For example, when I first started out in business, I literally kept the receipts for my business in a JC Penney’s shoe box under my desk. After a couple of years and growing to multiple locations, my accountant sat me down and said, “You can’t keep your receipts in a shoe box anymore, you have to have better systems in place.” My system was working, but eventually, if I didn’t change, it would have stunted my growth. To scale to the next level, you have to sometimes acknowledge that the old ways may no longer be efficient, and they may not serve your current audience.

What we do today that is amazing will be the “standard” tomorrow. This is especially true in customer relations because human expectations change. We have to continue to over-serve and always increase our level of value to keep the same customers we pleased yesterday.

To do this, to continue to improve at the levels required of us, teams must do things like strategic planning and creative brainstorming. At Southwest Michigan First, I am the leader, so I could easily make all of the decisions on my own and force the rest of the team to just implement them, but that’s never going to yield the best results. Having team members with different ideas and perspectives at the table is what keeps us moving forward.

A couple of months ago, we sat down with a group from the team to brainstorm Catalyst University, our annual leadership conference. I laid down a couple of simple ground rules that lead to a really great discussion. These were simple like, nothing that we’ve done before is sacred, no idea is a bad idea because it may lead to the next great thought and here’s the big one, everyone must participate because everyone at the table was invited for a reason.

Coffee Talk

There’s a book on my desk that I’m sure I’ve referenced several times now called, “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive,” by Patrick Lencioni. In my words, not his, one of the book’s premises is about stealing in a meeting by not participating in open and honest dialog. Those people who don’t speak their minds at the table, but want to have a meeting after the meeting to tell someone that they didn’t agree are damaging the organization. They stole from the whole group where that conversation might have gone if they spoke up. Or, they allow the group to make a decision that they didn’t agree with, and they may have been right, thus hurting the organization.

The sum of all parts, or in this case all thoughts, is what makes us better. That is simply about participating, otherwise you are just running the coffee or lunch bill up. If you don’t know why you were invited to a certain meeting, ask someone or if you don’t feel the need to participate, then invite yourself out.

Continuous improvement largely results from open dialog. And it’s up to the leader to set these kinds of expectations in each organization.

Always Forward.

Question: What are you doing to improve as a team or organization? Have you set the expectations for how your team members should participate in this process?



Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. - Henry Ford If you are active on Twitter or Instagram, or spend any time around anyone under the age of 25, you probably know what #MCM means. For … [Continue reading]